Along with its rivals, men’s monthly FHM has been floundering of late. Will a redesign by magCulture’s Jeremy Leslie inject some much-needed life into the magazine?
We’re not sure how many of our readers regularly peruse the flesh-filled pages of FHM but you are probably aware that the men’s magazine sector as a whole has been going through a slump. So we were interested to hear that Jeremy Leslie, founder of the magCulture blog and CR columnist had been brought in by FHM to redesign the title. Leslie reveals what he has been up to and why.
CR: How did you come to be involved with FHM?
The publishers, Bauer, contacted me last year with a couple of potential projects. One didn’t work out, but FHM went live. I’m probably known for more niche magazine projects, both in terms of the magCulture blog and my design work. But in a previous role I worked on the country’s biggest circulation magazine [for Sky], and magCulture consciously covers both mainstream and independent magazines. In design terms both areas of publishing share a lot of the same issues. Whatever the project in hand is, you’re designing content in a manner appropriate for the audience. FHM has to compete with others in its market, and design can help.
CR: Did you have any reservations about working on it? What were you hoping to achieve?
I did have reservations to do with getting involved in the declining men’s market but in the end I realised that was the interesting challenge, working in a very tough part of the market. It was also quickly very clear what the design issues were with the magazine. In its time FHM was a classic piece of editorial innovation, and over the years it had wandered off in strange directions. The new editor wanted to focus on its core – being a men’s magazine that was sexy, fun and useful. I didn’t dislike the previous design, there were some strong elements, but it was wrong for FHM. We wanted to return the magazine to its roots, make it more confident and masculine.
CR: What were the main problems with the magazine as it was before?
There were two main problems. First, as I said, the design aesthetic was wrong for FHM. It was more that of a niche fashion title – the design was too present on the page, distracting from rather than helping the content. Second, the various parts of the magazine lacked their own identity, they shared the same set of design devices and so as a whole lacked pace and variation. I developed separate identities for the sections and worked on making the design less obvious, trying to make it almost invisible.
CR: Walk us through the main sections and what you have tried to do in each plus typeface choices etc…
At an early stage a decision was made to clearly define sections as text- or picture-led, and to build the design around these definitions. Access is the welcome section, where the reader interacts with the magazine through the letters page etc. This was the first section to fall into place, featuring a bold, masculine design with plenty of signature red and black. It’s a text-orientated section and uses a six-column grid to break it up.
Then comes Filter, the 20 must have/do/see events for the upcoming month as seen from an FHM point of view. This uses a similar typography to Access but is picture-led and uses a looser grid to provide areas of white space. Each item opens with the same set of information that can appear in various sizes and relationships to help with pace. Each item is numbered and there are various devices around the page that add playful detail.
The main features have their own identity again, the opening spreads making big bold statements. Previously, features tended to be over-complicated with multiple ideas clashing. The new design relies on singular ideas being developed to be as visually strong, direct and confident as possible.
Then at the back is Upgrade, a complex manual-like section that is still work in progress. This is hardcore information, using illustration and diagrams to bring the content to life.
Sprinkled throughout are the girls, which remain central to the magazine. Again, there had been a tendency to overcomplicate these pages, so we simplified these to make the most of the shoots and avoid odd white space on the gutters. The FHM team know their girls – it was a matter of presentation again.
Typographically, the whole thing is basically the Hoefler & Frere Jones catalogue. Most of the Knockout variations feature in for the section heads and a long-time favourite of mine,Verlag, for the body copy. The features add Tungsten for headlines and Cyrus Highsmith’s Prenza for the longer read text.
CR: Was there anything that you really wanted to get through that didn’t make the cut?
The management team were very supportive of the project as a whole, but there was one major element I was disappointed didn’t make the final cut. The FHM logo has never done the brand justice in my opinion, so I developed a new one based on the heaviest form of Knockout. It was similar enough to the old one to not confuse the reader, but was far more masculine and confident. But it didn’t go through.
Instead, I’ve rationalized the use of the existing logo, specifying the size at which it’s used on the front cover (previously its size varied) and ending the use of random colours. For now the logo will always be either red, with white as a back up if required.